NEW YORK — Because Sean Rodriguez had been playing so well, rookie infielder Reid Brignac hadn't been playing very much. And when Brignac got an opportunity, he hadn't been doing very well, with just five hits over the past month.
But manager Joe Maddon was determined to keep Brignac involved, even willing to go against his matchup-based philosophy to include him, albeit in the ninth spot, in Saturday's lineup. And Brignac showed his appreciation in a big way, blasting two home runs to lead the Rays to a 10-5 victory over the Yankees and back within two games of first place.
"It worked out really well," Maddon said.
Brignac, who also made a key defensive play in addition to his five RBIs, wasn't the whole story. Carlos Peña, continuing to show slight signs of recovery, contributed a season-high four hits, including his team-high 19th homer. And Jeff Niemann, showing no signs of the back stiffness that forced him from his previous outing, overcame a second-inning bout of wildness to work into the seventh for his eighth win.
The Rays improved to 55-35 — a pace for 99 wins — as they bounced back from Friday's frustrating loss for a chance to win the series with David Price on the mound for today's matinee finale.
"We knew we had to get this one," Brignac said.
Peña said he felt good about their chances Saturday afternoon based on the bus ride back to their Times Square hotel Friday night.
"I just liked our demeanor, how we were able to keep it light, and light-hearted, instead of hanging our heads too much," he said. "I think it's a great sign for our strength, our mental strength."
Brignac, 24, acknowledged he had been tested over the past month, relegated to 40 at-bats since Jason Bartlett came off the disabled list June 16.
"Hits are kind of hard to come by sometimes, especially when you're not playing every day," he said.
A talk last week with coaches Tom Foley and Dave Martinez helped as they counseled him to be patient and shared that Maddon planned to start using him more.
"He kept himself ready in spite of the long layoff," Maddon said. "He definitely was rested."
After Peña helped the Rays to a 1-0 lead in the first — with his fourth overall hit and first extra-base hit in 34 at-bats against Yankees starter A.J. Burnett, who left in the third with cuts on his hand — Brignac made it 3-0 with a two-out, two-run homer in the second. He came back with a three-run blast in the fifth off Dustin Moseley as the Rays opened an 8-2 lead.
They were the fourth and fifth homers Brignac has hit in 102 big-league games, and — despite 15-, 24- and 17-homer seasons in the minors — he said it was only the fourth or fifth time he'd hit two in the same game as a pro.
"He was the star of the game, for sure," Niemann said.
"He's got some juice in that bat," Peña said.
And some smarts, too, which Maddon addresses by saying, "He's a baseball player."
Brignac showed it in the eighth, scooping a ground ball that eluded Peña and racing to first ahead of Derek Jeter to quell any Yankee uprising.
Rodriguez is expected to start at second today against lefty Andy Pettitte, but Brignac will be back in there soon enough.
"He'll be more involved," Maddon said.